I had the honor last night of speaking at the opening ceremony for the Maitreya Loving Kindness Tour in Des Moines, Iowa. Here’s the text of my talk:
What a remarkable night. We’ve been to Tibet, to India, to Africa, and to places in between. And now I want to come full circle and bring you back to Iowa.
My husband Bob and I live on an acreage about 7 miles north of Winterset, just southwest of Des Moines in Madison County. For those of you who remember the book and movie, The Bridges of Madison County, this is THAT Madison County. The covered bridge where the characters Francesca and Robert fell in love is just a few miles from our house, and you can still sit on the same barstool at the North Side Café in Winterset where Clint Eastwood sat in the movie.
On this acreage a couple of years ago, a feral cat showed up in our yard—a small gray striped cat who hung around but would run whenever we stepped outside to leave food on the front porch. Before long, we realized this cat was pregnant, and we started calling her Mama Cat. And before too much longer, she had her kittens in our neighbor’s barn. Over time, we started to win Mama Cat over. I’d be out gardening, and she’d come a little closer each day. I could tell she wanted attention, but she just didn’t trust us yet… until one day when she walked right up to me, turned around, stuck her tail up in the air and invited me to scratch her rear end. We’ve been acquaintances every since.
Mama Cat started bringing her kittens to our house to eat. But while she has become somewhat domesticated, her kittens have not. They run if they even see us looking at them out the window. Bob built them a shelter that sits on the front porch during the winter, and he rigged up a wiffle golf ball tied to a long string that hangs from a hook on the front porch, where the kittens can play feline tetherball.
But the kittens continued to run.
One cold day, I felt especially frustrated as I opened the front door to feed them. They were huddled on the porch, but they scattered into the bushes as soon as they heard the door. Their insistence on running every time we reached out to them, their lack of trust that we had their best interest at heart, kept us apart and made their lives harder than they needed to be. So I stood on the front porch in the cold and spoke to them in the bushes, “If you would just stand still, we could help you.”
“If you would just stand still, we could help you.”
I thought I was talking to the kittens. But you know how sometimes your words come back to you and smack you in the face? As soon as I said those words, I imagined being surrounded by angels and spirit guides who were pointing at ME and saying, “If YOU would just stand still, we could help you.”
I realized in that moment how much I—like the rest of the human race—am running in circles, trying to find shelter and safety, when the help we need is right there—all around us and in us. We run and hide from help rather than accepting it. We run away from what we need rather than toward it.
Why? Why would we do such a crazy thing? In one word: fear.
For the past 30 years, I’ve studied something called A Course in Miracles, which is based on this premise: In this world, there are two things: love and fear. And of those two, only love is real. Now fear feels real. It keeps us stuck. It keeps us from believing we have value. It keeps us from following our dreams or finding a life partner. It holds a grudge. It speaks to us, often right after something wonderful happens, and warns us just to wait, because the other shoe is about to drop. It keeps us running into the bushes, limiting our ability to receive what’s right in front of us.
It’s not that loving kindness isn’t available. It’s just that fear stands in the way. If our part is to ask for our fear-based thoughts to be healed, then Spirit’s part is to encourage us to do so, to complete the healing we can’t do for ourselves. “If you would just stand still, we could help you.” But our fear keeps us running in so many directions.
We run toward the mall to buy things so we can measure our worth in a shopping bag. We run into relationships because we don’t feel complete. We run out of relationships because we don’t feel loved. We run toward violence because we feel helpless. And, as we were reminded earlier this week, we run to alcohol and drugs and sometimes ultimately to suicide so as not to feel at all.
But we can stop running and, for me, that’s what this experience, the experience of the Buddha Relics, is here to teach us. It’s about standing still so we can receive what we’re running around, trying to find.
I’ve learned that standing still isn’t about quieting your body. It’s about quieting your mind. Taking just a few moments to stop the parade of thoughts that goes marching through your mind every moment of the day. Think of it as an intermission. An intercession. A pause. An opening of the door. Or, as you will experience when you view the relics, a moment to receive the blessing.
Some of you here tonight experienced the relics two years ago when they were in Des Moines. Some of you may have had a reaction similar to that of my sister-in-law who, after viewing the relics, said, “I don’t know what that was, but it was amazing!”
Others of you may be here out of curiosity. What are these relics? What makes the experience so amazing? And why are they in Iowa of all places?
Personally, I believe they’re in Iowa because this is where we plant things. This is where we put seeds in the ground, where those seeds put down deep roots and grow and produce nourishment that spreads around the world and feeds the human race. And…this is where, as any RAGBRAI rider who has been invited to stay in a stranger’s home will tell you, loving kindness is embedded in our way of life.
So how do you describe the experience of the Buddha Relics? How do you describe the indescribable? My words will fall short, but I’ll do the best I can by telling you this story:
I’ve had two spiritually profound dreams in my life. They happened years apart…one when I was about 7 years old, and the other when I was in my early 30s. Now, when other people tell me their dreams, or when I tell them mine, it’s a little like describing your trip to the State Fair…nonsensical unless you experience it for yourself. “All the food is served on a stick! There’s a bull that weighs more than two bulls put together! They fry candy bars in fat…and eat them! And people crowd around to watch a man with a headset teach them how to use a mop!” I love the fair, but it does sound a little like falling down a rabbit hole. And that’s how other people’s dreams can sound, too. So I’m going to put you IN these dreams.
This is the one I had when I was seven. You might want to close your eyes. Imagine that you’re in an old DeSoto….one of those big old cars from the early 1960s. You’re with your family, and your dad is driving up the side of a mountain. The road is nothing but switchbacks, and you’re above the tree line, so it’s desolate…nothing but rocks and debris. At the top of the mountain, the car breaks down. So you all get out and, by yourself, you step over the very peak of the mountain. On the other side, there is nothing but blue sky and green grass. Not any ordinary green, but a green that’s like taking an Iowa cornfield or soybean field and ramping up the green 1,000 times. The most intense and vibrant and alive green you could ever imagine. You sit down on that green, green grass. Everything else fades away. And you feel the most sublime and complete peace come over you…a peace you’ve never felt before.
That’s the first dream. In the other one, you’re in a rocket. God is sending you into space for 20 minutes because he’s going to stop the world and send it on a new path. He’s concerned about the direction it’s going, so he’s going to reboot it, if you will. In the rocket, you look out a small window and see the stars glimmering. But you can feel the moment everything stops. You’re aware that there’s no wind blowing. That the oceans are still. And that even the stars have ceased to shimmer. And for those 20 minutes, you once again feel that deep peace, that indescribable peace, the peace that passeth all understanding. It feels good, doesn’t it?
When I woke up from both those dreams, even the one when I was seven, I asked myself and God whether it even was possible to feel such deep and total peace in this world because it always seemed like something was in the way. I couldn’t name that feeling of peace until more recent years, studying A Course in Miracles. The Course helped me name the feeling I’d experienced in my dreams. I realized that it was not extreme love. It was the total absence of fear. The total absence of fear.
As I mentioned, A Course in Miracles says there are only two things: love and fear, and of those two, only love is real. In other words, all those fears we hold within us, that keep us scattering into the bushes, are not the truth of who we are or the world we live in. In those dreams, I was experiencing divine energy without the walls we erect in this world, without the ego trappings of fear we carry. Those dreams were a return home, a remembrance of the divine love within each and every one of us.
In this world, it’s rare to encounter that kind of purity—that complete and total light—because, like the barn cats, we have so much fear…much of which we don’t even recognize. But this evening and in the coming days, you will have an opportunity to encounter that divine love by being in the presence of the relics. They are the embodiment of love without fear. That’s why they attract people from all cultures, all religious traditions, all faiths, all belief systems. That’s why we did two opening prayers tonight….the Buddhist mantra and what would be considered a more Christian prayer. Because the relics are a bridge…the symbol not just for Buddhists, but for all humanity, a reminder of the love we are at our core. The love we came from and will return to. The awesomeness not just of love, but of the absence of fear.
Some people say that, in the presence of the Buddha relics, they are changed. I would say it a little differently. We are not changed, because the love within us is changeless. But in the presence of the relics, we are renewed. We remember our Selves. Our souls light up. We have a feeling, even if just for a moment, of coming home, of comfort and the deep emotion that comes from indescribable peace….the hallelujah of love without fear.
We have the opportunity to help God reboot this world. We have, in every moment, the choice to open our hearts to loving kindness or be constrained by fear. And that choice doesn’t just affect us. It ripples out like the light flowing from Hoyt Sherman tonight. It literally changes the world.
The Dalai Lama wrote this as part of the foreword to my book The Only Little Prayer You Need: A calm mind and self-confidence are the basis for happy and peaceful relations with each other. We need to encourage an understanding that inner peace comes from relying on human values like love, compassion, tolerance and honesty, and that peace in the world relies on individuals finding inner peace.
In my mind, that’s what the Buddha Relics are doing here. They are teaching us. They are encouraging us. They are planting seeds in this rich Iowa soil. The Buddha Relics remind us that we can receive help and blessings beyond our imagination, beyond all the limitations of fear. All it takes is a moment to remember the message from the heavens, and from the masters:
Just stand still, and we will help you.